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The Veal “Victory:” Behind the Music

When I heard about the "victory" claimed by PETA regarding ceasing the use of veal crates by 2017 (to replace them with another housing system), at which point I’ll be nearly 50-years old, my first thought was: that’s a victory? I wallpapered my family’s kitchen with photos of male calves in veal crates in 1982, for heaven’s sake! If there’s a poster animal for torture, it’s always been the veal calf. And 25 years after the wallpapering incident, there’s some kind of apparent victory that will end the torture in a decade? Clearly, there are pieces to the puzzle that I don’t know, as I must admit I haven’t actually been following the veal cause because cow-eating is cow-eating, no matter what you call it.

Enter James LaVeck, who sent me an article by Dan Murphy, an animal industry pundit, published in Meat & Poultry, which by the way has a Tuesdays with Temple feature each week, with Temple Grandin (and has since 2002). The article is called "The Real Deal on Veal: Industry Should Get the Credit for Investing in Change, Not Interest Groups," and you have to be a registered user to view this particular article (it seems that’s easy enough to do). In case you thought PETA (or the HSUS, for that matter) should get the, um, credit (?) for the change in the way male calves are treated before they’re slaughtered, read what Murphy has to say . . .

The news reports appeared in both mainstream media and trade journals last week. They stated that the American Veal Association’s board of directors had unanimously voted, in effect, to re-invent its own industry, approving a total transition from the use of crates to group housing systems by the end of 2017.

Momentous news, but there’s one problem.

The actual vote took place in May, and the only reason it attracted attention three months later was the publicity generated by the Humane Society of the United States and PETA, who both took pains to crow about the "victory" they’d achieved in forcing the industry to abandon the use of stalls.

"For years, the humane community in the United States has said that these crates are inhumane and unnecessary," stated an HSUS news release. "We are pleased that the industry now agrees and is taking some steps to phase out this confinement system."

PETA, not surprisingly, went even further over the top. "We are popping champagne corks this week because veal crates – long symbolizing the worst of the worst of farming practices – are on their way to extinction," the group announced.

None of that’s a surprise. But what was a surprise to me was that the veal industry has been setting the stage for the PETA/HSUS "victory" for  . . . guess how long? Since before I started wallpapering my parent’s kitchen. Murphy continues . . .

Here’s the real reason the change was made – and by the way, this is an evolution that veal industry leadership has been exploring for longer than PETA has even existed. The vote came about not just because customer surveys indicated that longer term growth mandated a switch from stall to group housing but more importantly, because technology enabled the change. "The truth is that we now have computer systems that allow veal producers to automate the management of group housing in ways that at least approximate the efficiencies of individual housing," explained Bryan Scott, the American Veal Association’s executive vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs. "When you have to monitor feed intake in a group, you need a system sophisticated enough to track and control what each calf eats in order to maintain optimum herd health."

Murphy explains: "Often, there are simply no economically viable alternatives to unwanted production practices." In other words, if pig slaughterers were to house pigs in an environment that the average meat-eating American would deem humane, the meat that is the end result of their slaughter would be far too expensive for the industry to produce.

Joseph Stookey, professor of Applied Ethology at the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine addresses why voter initiatives to demand changes in the way we treat nonhumans bred and raised for slaughter for food  are necessary. Because the slaughter industries are so powerful that they don’t have to change until they’re darn ready, and all of their technology for more efficient slaughter and lower mortality rates (that’s unplanned mortality prior to the planned mortality) are in place.

Now, pay attention to this last part that I’d paraphrase or summarize if I thought it would help. But the words speak for themselves.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand that the argument advanced against industry being "forced" to make changes dictated by consumers – or their surrogates in the activist community – is that the end point of such a process is industry’s eventual abolition, a word that activists love to connect to slavery. But they’re wrong – about both the diction and the destination. When industry fixes the "sore spots" that trigger consumer concerns (and ballot measures), the result is greater support, improved sales and increased approval for the farmers, producers and processors involved.

Animal welfare is a goal in and of itself, as Dr. Stookey points out. But it’s also a steppingstone, not to eliminating the meat and poultry industry, but to ensuring its ultimate viability.

Did you get that? I think it’s worth repeating.

When industry fixes the "sore spots" that trigger
consumer concerns (and ballot measures), the result is greater support,
improved sales and increased approval for the farmers, producers and
processors involved.

Animal welfare is a goal in and of itself, as Dr. Stookey points out.
But it’s also a steppingstone, not to eliminating the meat and poultry
industry, but to ensuring its ultimate viability.

That’s according to the industry, folks. Maybe this real-life example will help put the seemingly-unending debate at ANIMALBLAWG to rest.

27 Comments Post a comment
  1. Deb #

    Wow, this was a powerful post. An eye-opener, even though I had thought my eyes were already open.

    August 22, 2007
  2. Colleen #

    I think your posts are always amazing, Mary, but this one is particularly earth-shattering! Last night I read, for the first time, an article written by James LaVeck that was published in Satya magazine. I'm sure you're read the article already (and I think you may have referenced it before in your blog). In any case, I was blown away to read about a 3 step PR campaign that came about 15 years ago for the meat industry, that calls for 1) isolating the radicals (labeling those who insist on abolition as "extremeist"), 2)cultivating the idealists and educating them into becoming realists, and 3) co-opting the opportunists (like PETA and HSUS) into agreeing with industry. A brilliant plan, I hate to admit, that is clearly taking over the animal rights movement. Animal welfarism is simply a way of letting industry win, and win big! There is no win in this for the animals.
    It's sad to me that we live in a world where (to quote Ani DiFranco here), it's radical to call a spade a spade. I wish more people would wake up to the dangerousness of welfarism. As I see it, industry has usurped (or is trying to) the real ideals of animal rights.
    If anyone is interested, you can find the James LaVeck article here at:
    Definitely worth the read!!!!

    August 22, 2007
  3. prad #

    i think the reason peta cites this as a victory is because they've been campaigning for better treatment of veal calves as well as the elimination of the veal industry for ages. however, note that they don't seem to claim it as a victory for themselves but for the animal protection industry: "This historic change is the latest in a series of victories for the animal protection movement" (
    then they go on to talk about their 'successes' with burger king and wendy's.

    now murphy admits that this was a move to ensure the viability of the industry. why do you think that is so? was it the industry that raised consumer concerns, or do you think it might have been peta and hsus? is it possible that the contant efforts of the aw component of ar is having a greater impact than some people want to acknowledge.

    personally, i don't think this 2017 thing is anything particularly wonderful to celebrate. however, it is erroneous to think that
    1) the animal industry figured it all out by themselves,
    2) animal protection groups have no involvement here other than publicity-seeking,
    3) this is actually a great victory for the animals (patting oneself on the back too hard will only sprain one's hand)

    August 22, 2007
  4. Gary L. Francione #

    Terrific, Mary.

    August 22, 2007
  5. Mary,

    I find your constant criticism of PETA and HSUS very disconcerting, as none of us would have a platform or forum to work from if it were not for their tireless efforts. I feel you would be far more effective in reaching people if you were to speak of the merits of abolition and not continually resort to belittling other groups who have made significant progress in the animal protection movement. In the current issue of Farm Animal Watch Ingrid Newkirk of PETA is quoted as saying "No veal for any meal is what we are working toward". I think the goal of all AR groups is to end the use of animals, period. Speaking on your beliefs and not someone else's makes you far more credible.

    August 22, 2007
  6. Thanks Deb, Colleen and Gary F!

    And Tricia, I know what you think about my treatment of PETA. However, part of my position (as an abolitionist) is that their work is harming animal rights. And part of my job, as I see it, is to get people to think critically about what is masquerading as an animal rights movement. I understand Ingrid Newkirk thinks no one should eat veal. I would never doubt that. But her organization sends a very troubling, ambiguous message, and in my view (as an abolitionist), the sooner people interested in animal rights realize that, the better. If I can (and I have) helped people have the change of mind that I myself experienced, from new welfare to rights, I will consider that a true victory. In your mind I have lost credibility by pointing out problems in the positions of PETA and the HSUS. Others would disagree. I am not belittling anyone personally. I am saying their efforts at welfare reform are simply not going to lead to abolition. This is what history is showing us, and I want people to pay attention to that.

    August 22, 2007
  7. Thanks for this post, Mary. We need more exposes in the same vein.

    August 22, 2007
  8. Mary,

    I respect your position as an abolitionist, but the reality is that most people don't care whether animals have been raised with a modicum of decency or not. In the meantime we can't simply ignore their suffering. I know people who are political activists, are against apartheid, and care deeply about human rights. These same people do not care about animals. The suffering is so overwhelming, and since we will never convince the majority of people to go vegan, we must make changes to the way animals are raised, transported and slaughtered. I would like to think idealistically that some day we will have a veg society, but it's not going to happen in our life time. Nothing we do now is going to lead to abolition, because most will never consider giving up meat, dairy, etc. We all hear the same old rhetoric, but the bible says, we need meat to be healthy and but I like meat-it tastes good. Do you really believe people who respond this way to animal suffering are going to open their hearts and minds? Never! The odds are against us. The only way most will abstain from meat is if to eat it would jeopardize their health. I would like to know if since most of Europe has phased out veal crates and upgraded to group housing if consumption of veal is on the rise. I don't think raising animals in better living conditions will make people more comfortable about eating meat, they would eat meat regardless.

    August 22, 2007
  9. Tricia,

    I agree: the suffering is overwhelming. And the odds of a veg society in my lifetime are nil. However, I absolutely disagree that "The only way most will abstain from meat is if to eat it would jeopardize their health." With the exception of one person, every vegan I personally know became a vegan for ethical reasons. If they can do it (and some came from seriously against-all-odds backgrounds), other people can. Look at me! Look at my husband! Look at my friends and family members who are giving their leather shoes to goodwill and calling me each day for egg substitutes that are better than Egg Replacer! The more people I meet, the more faith I have that–when armed with the facts about sentience and when they've taken that scary moral walk regarding what they do and what they say–the more people I come in contact with will become vegan.

    I do know that according to the industry veal consumption in Europe has increased. Check out I hope that helps. The only thing I know for sure, Tricia, is that veal isn't going anywhere, and as someone who has precious few extra minutes or hours in a day for advocacy, I'd rather educate people on veganism instead of writing letters advocating replacing crates with sheds. But that's me.

    August 22, 2007
  10. Mary,
    All of the vegans I know are vegan for moral and ethical reasons. There are people however who are vegan for health reasons. I too have precious little time, working, having children and 7 companion animals, so when I stand outside of stores handing out pamphlets and brochures I educate people to become vegan on moral grounds. In the last couple of months I have met several people on line who do pit bull rescue, 2 of whom have become vegan because of petitions I sent them from HSUS. I used the Mike Vick abuse case as a vehicle to educate them on all animal abuse not just dogs. Our younger dog is a pit we rescued 2 years ago so I work with rescues on line. One woman took her kids to KFC and McDonalds to eat practically daily and after seeing some PETA videos went vegan. She showed the videos to her parents and husband and they are all vegan now. I know you don't advocate using graphic pictures of suffering to educate, but sometimes it's the only way to get people to think about how the food they eat arrives at their table. What I am saying is that most people who don't care about animals will become vegan only when their doctor tells them it will benefit their health to abstain from meat. Those who care about animal suffering will do so ethically, but they and we are a minority. Therefore I feel I personally have a moral obligation to lessen the suffering of animals which will eventually lead to the end of their exploitation. I think the work you are doing is exceptional and thank you for using your brain and blog to get family members, friends and others to embark on this moral journey with you.

    August 22, 2007
  11. Tricia,

    When I asked readers about whether I should include pictures in whatever material I create, the majority said yes. I think . . . . I hope I can do that and not necessarily use gruesome photos, and have the eyes of the nonhumans speak for themselves. I hope I can refrain from focusing on suffering in the content, yet show it somehow, but in a different way from what we're used to, in photos. I could be crazy thinking that will work, but I do have a vision for it. That, of course, doesn't mean I'll succeed. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

    August 22, 2007
  12. Let me raise the following questions about James LaVeck's assessment that the animal agriculture industry is deftly splitting the animal movement and co-opting – for lack of a better term – the pragmatists.

    There has also been a continuum stretching from "all or nothing" to "get reforms of any increments and proceed" in the animal protection movement that stretches back centuries.

    Cleaving strategies only work if the "realists" want to preserve the enterprise that the "radicals" want to abolish. But the vast majority of people who support welfare reforms to one degree or another also want the enterprise abolished. This includes the folks running PETA and the farmed animal division of the HSUS. They only differ on how to do it. In a real sense, we're all radicals. The industry has said as much many times.

    Why is it necessarily that the industry is co-opting us? Aren't we co-opting them? They're the ones who are abolishing practices, one by one, that were the hallmark of the industry until very recently. They're the ones who have to desperately hide what they're doing and fear the public a) finding out, b) talking about it, as is happening.

    August 22, 2007
  13. A general misconception about abolitionists is that people somehow think that we OPPOSE any improvements in the treatment of non-human animals before they are eventually murdered. This can't be any further from the truth.

    The facts are the following:

    1. Send out the message that one can be a conscientous omnivore, and that's what (lazy) people will become. After all, the "animal rights" people told them it's ok to be so.

    2. Animal abusers will not make any improvements in "animal welfare" unless it is profitable to do so. This will result in more animals being imprisoned to be murdered.

    3. It can be argued that we are witnessing incremental improvements in the treatment of animals prior to their murder. However, the true and complete picture is that any "improvements" are made at the animal exploiters' leasure, and provided that they actually maximise profits and increase sales. This actually means that more animals will be abused, not less. This also means that the only way to decrease the number of non-human animals being abused is to "convert" more people to veganism. One doesn't convert more people to veganism by sending out a double (conflicting) message: a) You should go vegan. b) It's ok to be a "conscientous omnivore". Apart from being dishonest, this would be counter-productive.

    August 23, 2007
  14. Mike Grieco #

    A Real "Victory" for the meat industry. The 'deadly' reality continues for the cows.*WHAT A TRAGEDY*
    Mary–i can't wait until you create your own literature on abolitionist.I am sure your message will be clear. Go vegan because "it is right,it is just".
    "Animal Rights" will be clearly understood (yes photos would be great)and some day "true victory" will be achieved for the nonhuman animals,the environment,and ourselves.

    Wonderful cause Mary…
    Mille Grazie!…Again!

    August 23, 2007
  15. roger yates #

    Tricia Glynn's comments are upsetting if only because they appear to be so common. "We have no platform without PeTA and HSUS, we will never convince the majority of the case for animal rights, most people will never give up meat eating" – this is Erik Marcus' poverty of ambition at large.

    Of course we have a platform – abolitionist AR which states that veganism is its moral baseline just as human rights organisations have basic expectations of moral agents. What the audience does with our message is up to them – meanwhile, our job is to pound it out – consistently – persistently – and without watering it down to make it more suitable for a speciesist society. In the words of the founder of the Vegan Society, we must "ripen" the public to our vision.

    This means they have to get used to our claims and, when the seeds have been planted, they may well consider them. See Watson's views and links here:


    August 23, 2007
  16. Gary,

    Sorry, I deleted 3 instead of 2, but in response to: Isn't it possible that the industry is reacting to activists? Sure. Anything's possible. However, changing from crates to an "alternative housing system" wasn't ever my goal anyway. The industry's right. More people are likely to eat veal now. They've taken the most taboo animal product and made it okay to eat. Translation? More calves will suffer than ever. Perhaps in a different way, but I have no reason to believe the numbers won't go up. Time will tell. Let's see what happens.

    "Why is it necessarily that the industry is co-opting us? Aren't we co-opting them?" I don't think so. They have made realists of idealists ( They have succeeded in getting Peta to fight for reform. In turning abolitionists into new welfarists, to use the lingo–in turning idealists into realists. You act like a realist when you argue for regulating an institutional use of animals. A radical wouldn't do that. Remember, they're not worried about the radicals because they know their minds cannot be changed because they hold steadfast to their beliefs. They isolate the radicals. Have they done that with Peta? Have they isolated Peta? No, they're at the table with Peta. So though you may say that the industry thinks we're all radical, I disagree. The industry, with the help of activists, has transformed idealists into realists.

    August 23, 2007
  17. prad #

    mary, idealism doesn't consist of ignoring reality. the reality is that much can be done to reduce the suffering of animals and that is certainly not the end of ar.

    it is incorrect to think the industry haven't 'isolated' (by which you mean targeted, i presume) peta, because they regularly do: the australian wool industry, the canadian seal industry, the fur industry, kfc etc etc are afraid of peta – and they publically admit it by direct statements, derogatory comments and reform. ccf (center for consumer foolishness) regularly give peta free publicity (interestingly enough in exactly the same fashion that some abolitionists do). so gary is quite correct when he suggests that the animal abuse industries have made changes as a result of "reacting to activists".

    tricia's comments are more significant than common (as roger seems to find them). peta has provided the platform for ar. to deny it and denigrate the organization is unfortunately what is common just as certain blacks oppose obama because he is black (or not black enough) and certain women deny their debt to the feminist movement (because they think they've done it themselves).

    you will not find a social justice movement in history that hasn't progressed through reform to eventual abolition. unfortunately, you will not find too many either where there wasn't considerable in fighting amongst the goodguys. if there is any role for idealism in ar, it is to change that reality … to stop the bickering, to stop the bashing and to work together.

    as for upsetting people, there are far more deserving to quarrel with than those on your blog who are after all ar activists. your blog has been helpful to my group and appreciated. i wish you the best.

    August 23, 2007
  18. 2 things:

    1-prad–the article referenced defines the terms. Isolate the radicals means brand them as extreme AND EXCLUDING AND MARGINALIZING THEIR DEMANDS. That's why I categorize PETA this way. Not only is PETA included, but they're included as if they represent everyone interested in animal rights! The article (referenced also by Colleen earlier) is quite educational.

    2-Neva tried to comment but got shut out. Here's what she had to say:

    I wish I could respond to Tricia because my experience has been that
    most people actually do care about animals. At my work I don't think
    there's another vegan in my entire division. There was one really
    nice vegetarian though he transferred to another division, but he's an
    Indian Hindu, grew up vegetarian and he's not really AR so much as
    it's a religious thing for him. Which is great, but anyway… I was
    saying pretty much everyone I work with eats animals, and nearly all
    of them also seem to care about animals. They love dogs for example,
    several enjoy bird watching, everyone was upset about Michael Vick.
    They hate to hear stories about blatant cruelty to farm animals but
    continually fool themselves into thinking that the meat they buy is
    humane. My boss told me some story about encountering a calf when she
    was little–her father bought a calf on impulse and the calf got sick
    and died… From the story it was apparent that she was very troubled
    by animal suffering of any kind and that she understood that farmed
    animals have personalities, but she has excuses upon excuses, you
    know. I give her vegan food to try and she even likes a few things
    and tries to eat them on her own, currently she likes vegan soy
    sausage and any kind of dessert but is scared to death of tofu.
    Another guy I work with loves tofu, because it's "natural", but is
    constantly asking if my food is fake or artificial because he tries to
    avoid "additives"… Strange. But there's laziness and all kinds of
    stuff going on. Another co-worker of mine loves animals but she
    refuses to eat any fruits or vegetables (because they taste bad to
    her) (don't even get me started on the health implications) so she
    says she'll starve without meat.

    What I'm interested in is ways to tap into this concern that seems
    almost universal, but to fight against this inertia where people just
    keep doing whatever they've always done.

    August 23, 2007
  19. Hi Mary –

    I noticed the link I provided for the James LaVeck article is not working.
    prad, go to this link: , then click on the article written by James LaVeck (it's titled "Invasion of the Movement Snatchers."

    August 23, 2007
  20. PS, prad, Colleen blogged about this today (

    August 23, 2007
  21. Thank you so much for posting this.

    For those who still continue to deny the sad truth of welfarism:
    Most of us have been there – I know I have. I always felt odd advocating reform when I knew in my head and my heart that I opposed the entire unjust system. Liberate yourselves: reject welfarism and join the real animal rights movement – the abolitionists. You'll feel much better in your advocacy and you'll surely get better results as well.

    August 23, 2007
  22. Ellie #

    To put it succinctly: if welfare groups like HSUS and PeTA were honest, they would admit they cannot possibly enforce an array of reforms that are violated over and over and over again. So to think they are reducing the suffering of animals is very unrealistic.

    I completely agree animal rights is based on a moral ethic, and I think the animals would be better of without the aforementioned groups.

    August 24, 2007
  23. Mary,

    I just wanted to thank you so much for sharing a brain with me. There's always so much to say, so much to write, and whenever I feel overwhelmed (i.e. jumping out of my skin) by the desire to shout the truth from the rooftops, I read your posts and realize how convenient it is that people like you are saying exactly what I want to say.

    Now, I have to go post on my own blog about my ecstatic response to the Atlantic Monthly's B.R. Myers' fantastic critique of Michael Pollan. (Run to your nearest bookstore to buy this month's issue!) Myers calls Pollan to task for all his bull and finally shouts that the Emperor Wears No Clothes! (I've been saying it for years, but the Atlantic didn't seem to notice!) 🙂 The bottom line is that the "foodies" and "gourmands" have usurped the ethics, which have been handed to them by welfare victories. (See my Satya articles and

    Anyway, you're a gem, and I'm so grateful you do what you do!

    August 24, 2007
  24. Joey,

    I've just e-mailed you (I didn't see the comment). I'm happy to have a page of pdfs or links to pdfs on my site. I'll do whatever I can to help abolitionist literature make it into the hands of people thinking about their relationship with nonhumans. And of course particularly into the hands of welfarists.


    Thanks for the kind words. I'm so excited about the Pollan thing. I just asked my husband to get it on his way home. I can't wait to read your post. I'll make sure to re-blog it.

    August 24, 2007
  25. Ellie #

    Thanks, Colleen. I felt pretty helpless about Michael Pollan too, and it's good news to find a rebuttal in a respected and mainstream publication.

    August 24, 2007
  26. Ellie – feel helpless no more. I really see Myers' mainstream criticism of Pollan as the beginning of the downfall of "ethical meat-eating." I've always known they couldn't hold onto their usurped ethics, and Myers' shines light on their falsehoods. I wrote about it a bit in my blog, and here is my letter to The Atlantic Monthly. I do encourage everyone to offer much praise to The Atlantic for Myers' piece.

    Dear Editor,

    I cannot thank you enough for publishing B.R. Myers' wonderful article ("Hard to Swallow") in your September 2007 issue. It is a powerful truth-telling piece that finally sheds light on the spurious claims and specious arguments of Michael Pollan and other "excuse-itarians," whose romantic depictions of something so ugly belies a pathological denial of reality. I've been writing about this for years, likening the public's response to his justifications for eating meat to Hans Christian Anderson's fable, The Emperor's New Clothes. In Anderson's morality tale, it takes a child to say what everyone knows is true but nobody would admit. The child's declaration that the emperor is wearing no clothes at all makes the public feel as duped as the emperor feels naked. Myers is the child in our own very real morality tale and skillfully reveals the gaping holes in Pollan's logic and the troublesome degree to which Pollan makes poetry out of pig slaughter. I have been waiting for a very long time for just one reviewer to take Pollan to task, and I am very grateful to Myers for doing so.

    With gratitude and hope,
    Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

    August 24, 2007
  27. Ellie #

    I hope they publish your letter, Colleen, as I think it's excellent. And I'll send them a note too, so the Atlantic will know there are people who appreciate Myer's insight and honesty. If this is the beginning of the end of "ethical meat eating", I didn't think I'd live to see the day, but now I'm hopeful like you are.

    August 24, 2007

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